Chicago is one of my favorite cities. It’s so vibrant, the people are so friendly and there are so many fantastic places to explore. Oh, Chicago!
Fortunately, I have dear friends, Beverly and David, who live in Chicago and I typically get to visit at least once each year. Despite our many adventures in the city, we had never been to a farmers market together.
During a recent visit we corrected that oversight and went to the opening weekend of the Chicago Green City Market. The market is open year round, but the annual move to the great outdoors requires a celebration. And, quite the celebration it was.
The market is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 7 am to 1 pm at the South end of Lincoln Park, near the zoo. We arrived around 8:30 as Beverly warned that many of the stands sell out of product early because the chefs and the early birds buy up the best stuff fast.
We were greeted at the entrance by one of my favorite cheesemakers, Capriole. You can often find one of their goat cheese varieties at Central Market, Whole Foods, and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, but there were so many different choices at the farmers market. It was hard not to buy one of everything.
After I finally tore myself away from the Capriole table, we headed into the market proper and were greeted by a bumper crop of what would be Spring crops in Austin – rhubarb, asparagus, onions, garlic, lettuces, greens and herbs galore. It felt a bit like a time warp for me as it was mid-May, May 15th to be precise, and our Central Texas markets were already yielding the first summer crops of peaches, tomatoes and summer squash. It was a great lesson in seasonality and place.
The Green City market is about twice the size of the Downtown Austin Farmers Market. They operate under very strict growers only rules and all prepared foods must be made with local products. This caused a bit of a challenge for me as it means that there was no coffee vendor at the market. The information booth has a couple of containers of local roasted coffee they give away, but it goes very fast. I suggest you buy your coffee before you go.
One of our more exciting finds was dried corn ears that can be used for popcorn. I immediately thought of my friend Carla Crownover
who has challenged herself to go a year without a grocery store. She had told me that one of things she missed most was popcorn. While not local, this corn didn’t come from the store so I decided it was fair game and got Carla a handful of ears.
The market sported a bounty of prepared foods as well. There were vendors with jams and jellies and pickled items – even pickled mushrooms.
Floriole, a bakery who by chance has an employee who hails from Austin, offered up delicious cookies and pastries. Their shortbread cookies were incredible.
There was even ice cream from Snooklefritz. All of the flavors were from local produce, spices and herbs. Ice cream. Hey, Austin food artisans, where is my ice cream?
Being in the heart of the dairy belt, you could eat your weight in cheese at the market. You had your pick of goat, sheep, or cow’s milk cheeses. One of the more novel cheese products was a baked cheese similar in style to a Greek Haloumi that you serve warm after grilling or frying. I particularly enjoyed visiting with their master griller – that girl knew her stuff.
Fortunately, one enterprising food artisan made terrific crackers to go with all that cheese. Potter’s Cracker’s
sells several varieties of handmade organic crackers including Classic White, Classic Wheat, Toasted Sesame and even a Hazelnut Graham. The Classic White was a perfect partner for the local cheeses.
And, of course, several vendors were plating up delicious hot food. We chose savory crepes with asparagus and cheese.
who also participates in the indoor French Market
, was preparing beautiful doughnuts served up in a newspaper cone. They were dusted with cinnamon and sugar and smelled delicious.
, a supper club and catering company similar to our own Dai Due, was grilling up fresh burgers with locally raised beef. The buns and condiments were all locally made as well. Christine Cikowski, the owner and chef, spoke with passion about their mission to capture the best flavors of the season in every dish they make. I hope we can coordinate my next visit with one of their tasty dinners.
After shopping and eating our way through the market, we headed to the chef’s demo, a true treat as it featured two chefs, Carrie Nahabedian of Naha
and Sarah Stegner of Prairie Fire
, whose restaurants serve quality sustainabile fare and they are also board members of the Green City Market.
Carrie whipped up a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich with two of the market cheeses, a fried egg and some beautiful prosciutto.
Chef Sarah made a gorgeous salad to go with it made with sauteed ramps, radishes and asparagus. They made it look so easy and the group sitting next to us in the crowd said they were inspired to go home and make some simple seasonal dishes.
We had a delightful morning at the Green City Market and it is well worth a visit the next time you are in Chicago.
See you at the market!